Cognitive–Behavioral Theory in Sport and Performance Psychology
- Faye F. DidymusFaye F. DidymusCarnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University
The cognitive–behavioral model of psychotherapy holds cognition at the core of psychological problems and disorders. The theoretical foundations of this model imply that dysfunctional thinking is common to all psychiatric disorders, psychological problems, and medical problems with a psychological component, and that changing an individual’s cognition results in causal changes in emotions and behaviors. In addition, when working with the cognitive–behavioral model, practitioners acknowledge that ongoing cognitive formulation is the basis of effective practice; that working with an individual’s beliefs about themselves, the world, and others results in sustained change; and that neurobiological changes occur following cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT). The cognitive–behavioral model has been successfully applied in many domains (e.g., clinical, occupational, and sport psychology) where interventions are framed around the beliefs that characterize a presenting issue. Cognitive restructuring is one technique for implementing CBT that has been applied in sport and performance psychology. This technique is particularly relevant to performance domains because of the focus on cognitive formulation; the underpinning associations between cognition, emotion, and behavior; and the links between positively valenced emotions and superlative performance. Findings of sport psychology research extend the application of CBT beyond clinical populations and highlight the usefulness of cognitive–behavioral approaches for optimizing experiences of and performance in sport.
Some would argue that the first scientifically testable paradigm that was built on the cognitive–behavioral model of psychotherapy, and came chronologically slightly before CBT, is rational emotive behavior theory (REBT). Because both CBT and REBT share cognitive–behavioral roots, they have many similarities in their underpinning assumptions and in the ways that they are applied. REBT, however, focuses on rational and irrational beliefs and the links between an individual’s beliefs and his or her emotions and performance. REBT has a more philosophical focus with motivational theoretical roots when compared to other CBT approaches. Distinguishing features of REBT also lie in the techniques used and, hence, the way in which the underlying principles of the cognitive–behavioral model are applied. Disputing is the applied foundation of REBT and is a method of questioning an individual’s beliefs that generate emotional responses. This technique aims to help an individual recognize and adjust flaws in his or her thinking to work toward a more functional philosophy. Research that has used REBT in sport and performance contexts is sparse but that which does exist highlights the approach as a promising one for optimizing athletes’ beliefs and their emotional, behavioral, and physiological responses.